The Celtics visit Toronto for the Raptors’ first ever home Christmas Day game. Up until this game, the Raptors were one of 5 teams that had never hosted a Christmas Day game. Now Charlotte, New Orleans, Minnesota and Memphis are the 4 that are yet to host a game on Christmas Day.
The Celtics played on Christmas Day last year and many times in the past. Toronto’s only Christmas game was in 2001 in New York. Serge Ibaka and Patrick McCaw are the only Raptors who have played on Christmas Day. Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker are among the veterans who have never had the chance to play on Christmas Day.
This is the second of 4 games between these division rivals this season. The Celtics won the first game 112-105 in Toronto on October 25. They will meet again in Boston on December 28 and in Toronto on March 20. The Celtics sit in 2nd place in the East while the Raptors are 4th. The Raptors are 13-3 at home while the Celtics are 8-6 on the road. The Celtics are 5-3 vs the division while the Raptors are 3-2 vs the division.
Both teams have been hit with injuries to key players. The Celtics may get Gordon Hayward back for this game after missing the past 3 games with soreness in his foot. He is listed as probable. Marcus Smart has missed 6 games with an eye infection that spread to both eyes. He was able to finally attend a practice but is out for this game.
Both Vincent Poirier (finger) and Robert Williams (hip) remain out for the Celtics as well. Tacko Fall, who has played in the last two games will be inactive for this game. Tremont Waters, the Celtics other two way player has been called up and will be with the team for this game since the Raptors have been playing more small ball due to injuries.
Dewan Hernandez, who last played on December 16, is out with a sprained ankle. Matt Thomas is out with a fractured finger. Norman Powell is out with a subluxation of his left shoulder. Pascal Siakim is out with a groin injury. Marc Gasol is out with a hamstring injury. One of their two way players, Oshae Brissett has been called up from the G-League.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Marcus Smart (eye) out
Vincent Poirier (finger) out
Robert Williams (hip) out
Gordon Hayward (foot) Probable
Tacko Fall (inactive)
Two Way Players
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: Patrick McCaw
PF: OG Anunoby
C: Serge Ibaka
Dewan Hernandez (ankle) out
Matt Thomas (finger) out
Norman Powell (shoulder) out
Pascal Siakim (groin) out
Marc Gasol (hamstring) out
Two Way Players
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
These are two veterans who are experiencing their first ever Christmas Day game. Lowry is averaging 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.2 steals. He has picked up his game with the injuries to his teammates and has averaged 29.3 points in the 3 games since Gasol, Powell, and Siakim went out with the injuries.
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 17.6 points,, 4.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.9 steals. He also has picked up his game a bit to fill in for his injured teammates. Jaylen Brown has been playing very well for the Celtics and should match up well with VanVleet. He needs to stay with him on the perimeter as VanVleet is shooting 38% from beyond the arc.
Daniel Theis vs Serge Ibaka
With Marc Gasol out, the Raptors have been starting Ibaka, who is averaging 13.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. Ibaka is always a threat to block shots and grab rebounds and so the Celtics will need to try to keep him out of the paint.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics have the 4th best defensive rating in the league at 103.6. The Raptors are 3rd with a defensive rating of 103.5. They need to play particularly tough defense against the Raptors since they are a top defensive team themselves, even with all the injuries. The Celtics have to make defense a priority if they hope to beat the Raptors on the road.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, in crashing the boards, and just all around going all out. They have to aggressively attack the basket. They need to start the game with that aggressive attitude and be aggressive through the whole game with no let up. They absolutely can’t let the Raptors play harder than them.
Rebound - The Celtics must crash the boards. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. The Celtics have to be the team that puts out more effort from every player to go after rebounds. The Celtics are 9th in rebounds at 46.1 per game. The Raptors are 7th with 46.4 per game. The Celtics have to crash the boards and beat the Raptors to the rebounds if they want to get a win.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball and not lapse into hero ball. They have to make the extra pass and find the open man and the best shot. They have to play team ball. They also have to focus and make careful passes as the Raptors are 2nd with 19.9 points off turnovers per game and they will make the Celtics pay if they get sloppy.
Bench Play - The Raptors have been playing very well in part because of their bench production. If the Celtics have one weakness, it may be production off their bench. They rank 27th in the league with 27.9 points off the bench per game. Even with key bench players starting in place of injured players, the remaining bench players average 31 points per game and some have stepped up their game to score even more since the injuries hit their team.
On the Road at Christmas - Road games are always a challenge and the Raptors are a very good home team. But this may be even more of a challenge since it is the Raptors’ very first ever home game on Christmas Day. You know that the Raptors are going to be fired up on this big stage and they are going to play extra hard to try to get the win. The Celtics have to block out the distractions of playing on the road and play even harder to get a win in this one.
The Injury Bug - Both teams have been hit with injuries. Both teams have had players step up to fill in for their injured teammates. Will the Celtics let up now that they are getting at least one of their players back? Will the Raptors play harder since they are still missing 3 key players? Which team will be able to overcome injuries and get the win?
Officiating - The officials sometimes call every little thing and sometimes they let a lot of the little stuff go. The Celtics need to recognize how the game is being called and adapt to it. Hopefully this crew will let them play and not destroy the flow with a whistle on every play.